Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Get Me My Brit TV!


Do you love British mysteries? Our newest columnist, TK Starr, has the rundown on all of the best sources to feed your addiction...

I signed-up for AcornTV a few months after it premiered and was in heaven. At last. Brit mysteries and comedies at my remote-clicking fingertips whenever I wanted and without having to get–up and change DVDs. Combined with Netflix, which has some pretty decent British programming too, what more could I want? I was content. Then along came BritBox. Wait, I thought, who’s this interloper? What did Britbox have that my beloved AcornTV and Netflix did not? Well, as it turned out, the BBC/ITV streaming channel known as Britbox did offer different programming including some favorite classics. Although there is overlap between the two Brit-focused channels (and Netflix since you can’t get away from Midsomer Murders even if you tried-more on that later),  they are just different enough that I realized if I wanted access to the fullest catalogue of Brit offerings, I needed both BritBox and AcornTV. Darn them. 

But it is confusing. I mean, why in the name of all of Poirot’s little gray cells can’t one channel have his entire collection instead of splitting it  (BritBox- seasons 1-6, AcornTV-seasons 7-12)? Perplexing since AcornTV owns most of the Agatha Christie licensing rights. Sigh. True AcornTV has many more Agatha Christie offerings, but how is one to remember that it only has the newer re-wired versions of Miss Marple (with Geraldine  McEwan and Julie McKenzie)  while Britbox has the original ones with Dame Joan Hickson? Mmmm. Or why can you catch only the first two seasons of the delectable Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on AcornTV and all 3 seasons on Netflix? Good Grief! But the worst offender is definitely Midsomer Murders. Yup, the long popular Brit series with more criminals per square foot than your local prison is on all three channels in some form (Netflix seasons 1-19, Britbox and AcornTV seasons 1-20). It’s enough to make you throw your Roku against the wall and hook your cable back-up.

But of course, you don’t (at least regarding the Roku) because in the end, you want to have it all. And, despite my gripes, what they all have is pretty darn good. And, for the most part, unique. For instance, if you love programs with London based Scotland Yard leads, worry not, there are plenty on all three channels. But if you want to be bold and try something new,  travel to the remote coast of Ireland for Single-Handed (AcornTV) or shimmy up to Scotland to catch a different sort of monster in Loch Ness (Loch Ness, AcornTV).  Not enough? Keep heading north to Shetland, the sub-arctic archipelago of Scotland and the determined DI Perez (Shetland, Britbox). Or how about west to Wales for Hinterland, an intriguing series with the haunted DCI Mathias (Netflix). All of these shows feature complex,  characters and gripping stories set against impressive, if admittedly sometimes gloomy, scenery. Definitely, some noir going on. 

And speaking of noir (we were, weren’t we?), if truly tortured main characters are your thing and the location isn’t, try Marcella, a London-based detective series in the currently popular  “Nordic-noir” style (think “The Bridge” or the “Killing”). Not twisted enough? Then check out River, a mini-series with a “brilliant detective whose fractured mind traps him between the living and the dead”. Stellan Skarsgard plays London Detective John River to perfection (in my amateur opinion).

If you tire of the brooding mystery dramas and want something light and effortless, fly to the delightfully fun Death in Paradise set on the make-believe British Caribbean Island of Saint-Marie (Netflix) or travel very south to New Zealand to the town of Brokenwood for Brokenwood Mysteries. Much like Midsomer County, Brokenwood would not be a place I’d want to visit (if it was real of course) as people die there with frightening frequency. Still, AcornTV’s quirky detective series is one I hope comes back for several more seasons. 

There are even more choices for lighthearted detecting. Up to Canada and back to the early 20th century where Detective William Murdoch solves cases for the Toronto Constabulary using innovative forensic techniques. (The Murdoch Mysteries, AcornTV) Or return to the British countryside to the 1950’s where Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley of Harry Potter) plays a rather progressive Father Brown who solves mysteries and saves souls ( Father Brown Mysteries, Netflix). Want present day? Then stay in the countryside and visit the deliciously daffy Agatha Raisin, the retired PR Diva, who can’t seem to stop tripping over bodies around the picturesque village of Carsley (Agatha Raisin, AcornTV). 

All great stuff. So is there really a content difference between the three? Well, yes, and no.  it does seem that BritBox offers more Brit classics like the comedies Are You Being Served, Absolutely Fabulous, and  Fawlty Towers, as well as Derek Jacobi’s masterful dark-age monk, turned detective Cadfael. However, Britbox also has intriguing new content such as Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as Maigret and of course the enduring Vera. AcornTV has more recent comedies and shows like the endearing Doc Martin and Foyle’s War (mystery/drama). Netflix carries many of the same programs as well (Foyle’s War, Doc Martin, AbFab), but only Netflix has Monty Python as well as other wonderfully goofy comedies like “The IT Crowd”. All three are constantly adding new content as well. So take your pick or do a trial on each for a few months and see.

For me, since I couldn’t get everything I wanted on one channel, I splurged for all three. It's my vice, I'll live with it. Now, let me get back to my program. There’s just been a murder at the vicarage. I wonder how it’s going to end.

TK has many mystery fiction addictions. This Friday we'll feature her ode to audiobook star, Katherine Kelgren, and here's her homage to Trixie Belden.


  1. What a super piece! I am also very much enjoying the light and dark offered by the cable channels you's a surprise my bottom ever leaves the couch! The third of the three movies in this season of Agatha Raisin is just about to run on ACORN...I was lucky enough to have a chance of an early viewing, and can confirm that THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS CURATE is BRILLIANT! Happy goggle-boxing!

  2. thanks so much. I have Netflix and Prime, and plan to start Acorn next week. My watchlists now have more shows added.